‘the Emmaville Express’: meaning and origin

The Emmaville Express is the nickname of the Australian sprinter Debbie Wells (born 1961), who is from Emmaville, in New South Wales.

This nickname alludes jocularly to express (train), denoting a train that stops at few stations and travels quickly.

(Cf. also La Stupenda, the nickname given to the Australian operatic soprano Joan Sutherland.)

Debbie Wells, training at Emmaville—photograph published in The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales) of Tuesday 3rd April 1984:


The earliest occurrence of the Emmaville Express that I have found is from New sprint prospect, published in The Canberra Times (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory) of Monday 19th January 1976:

Sydney, Sunday.—A new chapter is about to be written in the record books of Australian women sprinters by a shy, teenage whirlwind from an outback northern NSW town.
With match practice of only seven runs behind her this season, Debbie Wells, 14, of Emmaville, has excited athletics officials with her astonishing potential.
The slim, leggy “Emmaville Express” rocketed over 100 metres in 11.1 seconds at the women’s athletic meeting yesterday at Sydney Sports Ground, after her world age record of 11.3 seconds earlier in the week at a Sydney twilight meeting.
Yesterday’s time, which was wind assisted at 3.5 metres a second, was one tenth of a second slower than the Australian and British Commonwealth record held by Denise Robertson of Queensland.
It was also faster than the 11.23 seconds registered by Raelene Boyle in winning an Olympic silver medal at Munich and only three-hundredths of a second behind the winning time of East Germany’s Renate Stecher, who also holds the world record of 10.8 seconds.
An Australian woman has never officially broken 11 seconds for 100 metres but the quietly spoken teenager will have a chance when she competes in an interstate sub-junior clash in Adelaide next week and the NSW championships in Sydney next month.
“I thought I’d never get enough competition to prepare for the Australian championships in Melbourne in March”, she said, referring to travel problems which had hindered her progress.
This situation has been solved through a local sponsor and she is now ready to prove she is faster than Marjorie Jackson, Betty Cuthbert and Raelene Boyle at the same age.
Debbie, who is under a training schedule laid down by top coach Ken Steward, came into athletics five years ago and first attracted attention in a Sydney appearance last year.
Steward believes she has more potential than any other youngster of her age and sees no reason why she should not go to the Montreal Olympics this year.
“Within two years I believe she will be among the greatest in the world and she has the temperament to meet the world’s best, even at the age of fifteen”, he said.
The slender sprinter appears likely to bring more fame to her home town than the reported sightings of a panther in the local hills some years ago.
Debbie is training daily at the synthetic Hensley track in Sydney with other Steward proteges before leaving for Adelaide, a far cry from the rough surfaced football ground she is forced to use at home.

The second-earliest occurrence of the Emmaville Express that I have found is from Debbie, 14, wins the open sprint, published in The Sun-Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Sunday 22nd February 1976:

Fourteen-year-old Debbie Wells became the youngest sprinter to win the women’s open 100 metres State athletics championship at the Sydney Ground yesterday.
Miss Wells, of Emmaville in northern NSW, was the last to leave the blocks but unwound a tremendous finish to win by inches in 11.4 from Suzette Sames, of Ryde, and Lyn Jacenko, of Sutherland.
Miss Sames appeared to have the title in her grasp only 10 metres from the finish.
But the “Emmaville Express”, renowned for her finishing burst, won the verdict with her time equalling the Olympic standard.

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